January 01, 2010

Indian self-portraits in Hokah!

Inside out:  Indian self-portraits

American Indian artists show the reality of contemporary life in self-portraits. "Hokah!" is a lively and insightful show.

By Mary Abbe
American Indians are sensitive about portraits because their public image has so often been shaped by outsiders who tend to stereotype, romanticize, historicize, idealize or barbarize them.

"Self-portraiture gives American Indian people the power to reflect back what we see in ourselves, and to put ourselves within a context that the general public is not used to seeing, thereby overcoming these stereotypes," guest curator Carolyn Lee Anderson explains in an introduction to the show.

While the "Hokah!" portraits include some trappings of traditional Indian life--canoes, horses, mountain landscapes--they're noteworthy for their contemporary edge. There are more black hats and sunglasses than feathered headgear and beaded necklaces. This is now, not then.

Minneapolis painter Robert Two Bulls, an Oglala Lakota Oyate who is an Episcopal minister, addresses the stereotyping directly in "Chief What-They-Want-Me-To-Be," a Pop-style caricature of a grizzled, blanket-wrapped Indian wearing a feathered headdress and staring at the sky. Three puffy clouds, floating overhead like empty speech bubbles, amplify the point that such images are cartoon simplifications of Indian identity today.
Comment:  For another art exhibit, see Migrations at the Pequot Museum.

Below:  Artist Jim Denomie's self-portrait, "Sustenance."

1 comment:

dmarks said...

According to an old book "Minnesota Geographic Names", Hokah is a Sioux (probably Dakota) word meaning root or heron. It's a place in southeastern Minnesota also, and I have several antique postcards of it.